Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) managed to win the runoff election for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate on Tuesday, defeating a serious challenge posed by tea party favorite Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R).
The race was called for Cochran with 98 percent reporting. Cochran led McDaniel 50.6 percent to 49.4 percent. The Associated Press called the race just after 11 pm ET. In the original primary election, Cochran actually came in behind McDaniel 49.5 percent to 49 percent, but neither candidate cleared the 50 percent threshold to stave off a runoff. On Tuesday, Cochran emerged victorious.
The victory for Cochran marks the end of a long, bloody, and often bizarre primary election that took center stage in the GOP Civil War and included two separate episodes, one, in which a McDaniel supporter and political blogger was arrested for photographing Cochran’s wife to use in an anti-Cochran video and another where McDaniel supporters found themselves locked in the Hinds County, Mississippi courthouse (where election ballots are kept) after the building had been locked. McDaniel was also dogged in the race for appearing at at least one neo-Confederate event and having been slated to attend another tea party event that featured a vendor of Confederate merchandise.
McDaniel was one of the top-tier candidates for the tea party movement this cycle. For much of the race he attacked Cochran as out of touch and a stale fixture of the Washington Republican establishment. While Cochran had the staunch support of establishment Republicans nationally and in the state (former Gov. Haley Barbour (R) was a deeply rooted supporter of Cochran’s re-election efforts), McDaniel was a marquee figure of the tea party movement, winning the support of conservative favorites like Sarah Palin and even a tacit nod by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).
Cochran had more trouble emphasizing his conservative bona fides and for much of the race didn’t go too far in trying to court tea party voters. “The tea party, you know, isn’t something I really know a lot about,” Cochran said earlier in 2014.
Cochran, meanwhile, pivoted his strategy away from attacking McDaniel as a conservative extremist after the initial runoff and instead focused on his own background as a top appropriator and the more moderate of the two candidates in the runoff. In the final weeks before the runoff Cochran also began courting Democrats and African American voters.
The primary was arguably the nastiest one of the 2014 election cycle and supporters for both Cochran and McDaniel acknowledged that.
“It was the most nasty, negative campaign I’ve ever seen and people snuck in senator Cochran’s wife room in the nursing home and took pictures and put them on the internet,” Barbour said in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday.
McDaniel hit a bump on his journey to win a Senate seat when the primary race was too close to call and fell into a runoff. That’s when outside groups made one final push for the tea party favorite.
“We had a real real strong presence in De Soto County and Chris carried that pretty handily,” Tea Party Patriots spokesman Kevin Broughton told TPM. “We had a strong strong presence up there the last two weeks. We were active down on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and here in the metro tri-county area of Madison, Rankin and Hinds Counties.”
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to get McDaniel across the finish line, and it’s unclear if McDaniel’s grassroots base will shift to rally behind the GOP nominee.
“I’m sure there’ll be a lot of hard feelings and sore heads but fortunately the election isn’t in July, it’s in November,” Brian Perry, who ran the pro-Cochran Mississippi Conservatives PAC, told TPM.